Thursday, January 31, 2013

cannellini ballwich

Ever since my buddy Corey Woodruff's guest post, Andouille Balls Po' Boy, I have had a hankering for a good ball sandwich. Ballwich. I wanted to do a twist on the classic meatball sub... so I took the meat out! How'd you like that twist? These balls are good because cannellini beans are good (one of my top 3 favorite beans!)... they are not a "meat alternative." They are simply yummy balls made of legumes. And seriously, these are good... creamyand moist with rich Italian flavor.

The sandwich hankering also came about because my other buddy, Kelly, posted this "Quick & Easy French Bread" recipe a few weeks ago. As a bread baking scaredy-cat, This looked like the perfect option for me. It was simple, non-intimidating, and pretty successful! Mine spread a bit, maybe because I didn't have a fancy baguette pan, and also because I used a small amount of whole wheat flour in place of some of the AP flour. My loaves, while a bit flat in shape, were tasty and had good fluff, and the crust is perfect for sandwiches... not too chewy. It is so very satisfying to make your own bread, don't you think?

Cannellini Balls with Marinara Sauce 
-2 Tablespoons olive oil
-1 large yellow onion, diced
-2 shallots, minced
-4 cloves garlic, minced
-1 Tablespoons dried oregano
-2 teaspoons dried basil
-1/2 teaspoon dried sage
-1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
-1 bay leaf
-pinch of fresh-grated nutmeg
-1 large can of whole tomatoes
-3 Tablespoons tomato paste, divided
-1/2 cup red wine
-1 can of cannellini beans
-3/4 cup bread crumbs
-1 egg
-salt and pepper to taste 
Cook the onions and shallots in the olive oil over medium heat until translucent. Add the garlic and all the dried herbs/spices. Cook for a few minutes until fragrant. Remove half of the mixture to a bowl for the bean balls. Add the canned tomatoes, 2 Tablespoons of the tomato paste and the wine to the onion mixture in the pan. Break up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon while bringing to a simmer. Let simmer for at least 30 minutes.
Mush the cannellini beans with a potato masher until the look like lumpy mashed potatoes. Add the set-aside onion mixture, 1 Tablespoon of tomato paste, bread crumbs and egg and mix well. Form mixture into balls, about 2 Tablespoons per ball (makes about 24 balls). Place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Spritz or brush with olive oil. Bake at 350ºF for about 30 minutes until cooked through and lightly browned. Add the balls to the marinara sauce. Put on a sandwich with some fresh greens or on some spaghetti. 

Similar posts from the archives:
Tarragon Cod with Arugula and Beans
Cannellini Beans with Fennel and Bacon
Pasta with Fennel, Salmon and Cannellini Beans
Salsiccia Balls with Peppers and Polenta
Penne with Roasted Tomatoes and cannellini beans
Black Bean Balls with Avocado Buttermilk Sauce
Build a Better Taco Salad
Year of the Balls Round-Up

Thursday, January 24, 2013

food inspiration, passion & learning... by Niche

If you are a regular reader, you know I don't do restaurant reviews. I prefer to leave that to the professionals. However, when I have an experience that makes me excited to live in St. Louis, I try to share, because boosting one's city and promoting it's exceptional businesses is important to me. This is the logic behind my ongoing St. Louis' Best Balls series

Niche probably doesn't NEED boosting... the chef, Gerard Craft is nationally recognized as one of the country's best, and it is well-known in St. Louis as the place to go for ultimate dining. It most recently got a 4-Star review from the well-respected local food critic Evan Benn. That's a big deal. I don't go enough. I am more likely to go to one of Chef Craft's other eateries, Brasserie or Pastaria, for the simple fact that they are more affordable (but holy cow what a value... those 2 restaurants serve up some phenomenal food). After this recent visit to Niche, though, I have started reconsidering my priorities. I need to figure out how to get there more often, because my mind was blown straight out of the top of my skull. 

I had high expectations, because I know that Gerard is an amazing chef. These expectations were exceeded. The food was all so perfect. Yeah, I said "perfect." But what got me was how CRAZY it was. I don't know what other word to use. I kept saying that when the servers (yes, a server per person when they served our dishes... fancy!) brought out the courses... "WHAT?!? THAT IS CRAZY!!" And I would occasionally punch my poor boyfriend in the arm out of excitement over these masterpieces. For instance: Chicharrons with white chocolate and chorizo powders (!!), parsnip/rum/lime otter pops (shut up!!!), white sweet potato soup with sage(!!!) marshmallows, celery (what the?!?!) granita with pop rocks (!!!!!), aged butter (?!?!), whipped lardo with cloves (!!!).... I mean. 

I came to the conclusion that this was the work of a mad genius. These flavor/food combination were certifiable, but they all worked, and worked REALLY well. My apologies to the chef if he saw me shaking my head most of the time. I was in disbelief.

It got me excited about food again. I didn't even realize I had lost any of my spark! I am constantly reading about food and everything related. Obviously I am constantly eating. But every once in awhile you need to be re-awakened to your passions. These dishes were fun and entertaining while being ambrosial. It reminded me of why I appreciate food so much... it keeps us alive, it is a necessity, but beyond that the possibilities are endless. I am inspired. To be a better cook, to be a better eater, to be more creative, to be more appreciative of what life gives me. Sorry if this sounds like over-the-top gushing, but food is my passion, and when something I live and breathe every day all of the sudden makes me start punching people out of excitement... gush I must.

To bring this post back to more "Iron Stef-y" territory, Niche did have some fabulous balls:

Coxinha are a Brazilian street food, usually made with shredded chicken and deep-fried. Niche's version featured chicken skin wrapped around Brazilian cheese and fried. They are indeed some of St. Louis' Best Balls. Wowsers.

While I'm on the subject of inspiration in St. Louis, have you been to our newly renovated Central Library?! It is downtown, it is huge and it is my new favorite place.
I could spend weeks at a time in this place. In fact, while I wander through it's glorious rooms of books and reading tables, I look for possibilities of where I can put a bed. 

Perhaps under this?

The room with all the science books is also the room with all the food books. And ohhh what food books they have. All the food books. And look at the ones they chose to display:

The have great taste. Heh. 

Here are some books about food that are inspiring and focus on the art of cooking. I feel like these kinds of books will help me get into the minds of insane-genius chefs. If anything, they will open my mind more... expand my world-view and increase the flow of my creative juices.... mmmmm. brain juice. 

In conclusion, what I'm trying to say with this post (besides visit these awesome St. Louis places!) is: keep eating, keep learning, keep your eyes and taste buds open!

Similar posts from the archive:
Roving I-ron Stef (posts about STL for a friend's travel blog)

Friday, January 18, 2013

sesame roasted tofu

I'm always trying to eat healthier, especially after the holidays, just like everyone else. More vegetables, less meat. More fruit, less cookie. Etc. Of course, lately all I can think about is pork fried rice. It's just one of my comfort foods, you know? The one remaining dish that I still order from Americanized hole-in-the wall Chinese take-out joints. I love me some MSG and grease.

I had a come-to-Jeezus talk with myself:
"Steph, what is it about pork fried rice that you crave?" 

"It's overall deliciousness and healing powers, duh." 

"But WHY is it delicious?" 

"I don't know... it's got... I mean it's got UMAMI!"

"I'll give you umami. IN YOUR MOUTH!"

Just a note, in case you are not a long-time regular reader, I love tofu, and I hate when people try to replace meat with it. I feel like it got a bad reputation because people tried to pass it off as a meat substitute. Eat it because you like tofu, not because you can't/won't have pork and it's the next best thing. PORK HAS NO EQUAL YOU GUYS. I could have made a healthier pork-fried rice, but I figured out it wasn't the pork I was craving this time. That said, this roasted tofu hit the umami target on the bulls eye. BONUS: it's nutritious.

Sesame Roasted Tofu

-1 block firm tofu
-3 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar
-4 Tablespoons soy sauce
-5 or 6 drops sesame oil
-2 teaspoons fish sauce
-dash of white pepper
-dash of granulated ginger
-roasted sesame seeds to garnish

Slice tofu into 8 even slices. Lay flat on a stack of paper towels (like 3, doubled over) then place another stack of paper towels on top, followed by a cookie sheet and something heavy (like 1 lb. bag of sugar or a few canned goods). Let drain for about 20 minutes.

Mix the rest of the ingredients, except the sesame seeds, in a small bowl. Score the tops of the  drained tofu (not too deep!) Brush some marinade on the tofu slices and let sit for 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 450ºF. Flip the tofu slices over, brush them with more marinade and let sit another 20 minutes. Use the remaining marinade to dress some steamed greens (like bok choy or napa cabbage) to serve with the tofu. 

Place the tofu pieces on an oiled cookie sheet. Roast for 20-25 minutes, turning once about 10 minutes in. The ones pictured were roasted a bit longer, about 30 minutes... and I really like them this way, though some people might find them too chewy. Garnish with roasted sesame seeds. Serve with brown rice and steamed greens dressed with the marinade.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

pumpkin arancini (risotto balls!) with cranberry chipotle sauce

A few months ago I made a meal that I assured would get you laid... pumpkin risotto with vanilla scallops. Ironically, when I made this sultry meal, my hunny was out of the country, leaving me to my own devices... and too much risotto. When life gives you too much risotto... wait. NO SUCH THING. But if you make more risotto than you can eat in one night, you MUST use the leftovers (PS, cooked risotto freezes pretty well for about 3 months) for Arancini. Arancini = Balls. Done.

Instead of frying, which, while dreamy, is messy and inconvenient to do at home, I used the baking method that I found on The Curvy Carrot blog. They are double breaded, resulting a tooth-pleasing golden brown crunch, without any greasiness or mess. For the dipping sauce I started with one of pumpkin's best buddies, cranberries. The pumpkin risotto is slightly sweet, so some heat and smoke from canned chipotles compliments these balls nicely. 

Pumpkin Risotto Arancini 
3 cups leftover pumpkin risotto
6 string cheese sticks, cut into 6 even pieces each (or 3 dozen cubes of mozzarella or other melty cheese of your choice)
1 1/2  cups bread crumbs
2 eggs, beaten
3 Tablespoons milk
1/8 teaspoon Chinese 5 spice
salt and pepper, to taste 
Preheat oven to 375ºF. Form about 2 Tablespoons of risotto into a round disc in the palm of your hand. press a piece of cheese into the center and gather up the sides of the disc around the cheese and form a ball. Set aside and repeat with the rest of the risotto. 
Use a fork to beat the eggs, milk and Chinese 5-spice together in a bowl. Put the breadcrumbs in a separate bowl. Dip the risotto balls in the bread crumbs to coat, then dip in the egg mixture, then back into the breadcrumbs. 
Set finished balls on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Spray (or lightly brush) the balls with Olive oil.  Bake at 375º for about 30 minutes, until golden brown. Serve with cranberry chipotle sauce and lightly-dressed salad.

Cranberry Chipotle Sauce 
-1 10-oz pkg. frozen cranberries
-2 chipotles from a can, chopped fine, plus 3 Tablespoons of the can's adobo sauce
-1/4 cup sugar
-juice from 1 orange (about 1/2 cup)
-2 teaspoons cumin
-about 1 cup water
-salt and pepper to taste 
Combine all the ingredients except the water and salt and pepper in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Once it starts to simmer, mash the cranberries with a potato masher and cook for about 5 minutes. Thin sauce with water until you get the desired consistency. Taste for seasoning. Serve with risotto balls, or use on chicken wings or pork ribs!

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Announcing! 2013: Year of the...

It's time to announce my 2013 theme of the year! What could possibly be better than 2012's Year of the Balls?!

Actually, I couldn't think of anything better... so....drum roll.....

That's right! MORE BALLS (see the whole round-up [PUN TOTALLY INTENDED] of 2012's balls here)! What can I say? There is just way too much left unexplored in the spherical world of balls. I mean, I haven't even tried actual balls... you know, of the testicular variety. Anyway, when your favorite local weatherman and Cajun food truck conspire to tell you to stick with balls, you can't say "no", right? (Hey Glenn... I guess it's Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, eh? EH? buh-dum-ching.)

I mean, I have a whole Pinterest board dedicated to balls. I also have a list of ball ideas in a notepad. Not to mention the book my buddy Kelly gave me that sparked this whole thing in the first place. And, not to dwell, but the lack of testicles is bothersome. Also, a search for meatballs on Amazon revealed a whole bunch of ball books and accessories I want to get my ball-rolling little hands on:

So 2013 is Year of MORE Balls. Hopefully it's as fitting a sequel as Meatballs II was. Oh wait.